Senator Elizabeth Warren has just released a DNA test that confirms that she is Native American. Well, 1/32 Native. Or 1/1024 Native. Nobody really seems to be certain.
Why It Matters:
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test is in response to a string of events that have brought her Cherokee and Delaware ancestry into question stemming from a political showdown in 2012.
Warren has also stated that she’ll take a “hard look at running for president,” suggesting a possible 2020 run against Trump.
Since 2012 there’s been a lot of political mudslinging and name-calling with a splash of insensitive racism targeted at Warren. President Trump has made a few remarks about Warren, calling her “Pocahontas” via Twitter and further, at a media event honoring Navajo veterans. Clearly, Warren has taken Trump’s nicknaming personally.
If your first instinct is to write this off as another schoolyard brawl between poop-fingered infants, then we’re with you because name calling just shouldn’t take up news headlines in national politics. If name-calling is an issue that you can settle by putting screaming 5 year-olds in a time-out, there’s probably a reasonable adult equivalent that takes up even less time and energy that doesn’t require producing multiple news articles and reports.
However, by mixing name-calling with matters of race, especially races that have been brutally repressed by the mainstream culture over centuries then you are poking the dragon.
Who is Elizabeth Warren?
Professor Elizabeth Warren became a Senator in 2012 and her racial background was given a lot of attention during her campaign, as her then-opponent Scott Brown was attempting to prove her lack of integrity so that he could gain an edge in his campaign.
Brown equated Warren’s apparently false Native ancestry to dishonesty, attributing Warren’s official labels of, “Native American Faculty Member” at Harvard and “Minority Law Teacher” at the University of Pennsylvania as examples of abusing minority status.
Warren has always maintained that all her accomplishments have been based on merit and that she’s never flaunted her Native blood for personal gain. Well at least, not more than the one time when she was called out for authoring recipes in a Native-themed cookbook called, “Pow Wow Chow” where she suggested using recipe ingredients such as mayonnaise and crab meat and signed off as “Elizabeth Warren, Cherokee.”
Regardless, whether Warren ever intended to take advantage of her Native lineage for something much more consequential than job titles and half-baked recipes is yet to be seen as the documents and interviews surrounding her academic profession don’t indicate that her minority status had influenced the universities to hire her.
Who Gets to Be Native American?
Maybe we should start with the obvious question of what makes someone Native American in the first place.
Self-governed First Nations tribes have used measures of direct blood ties as well as cultural immersion as the basis of determining Native affiliation. There’s a concept of “blood quantum” to categorize blood purity within Tribes, which trace an individual’s lineage to determine membership. There’s also the cultural measure of whether an individual is sufficiently fluent in the language and lifestyle to merit a Native identity.
In Warren’s case, it’s the distance she has from both of these guidelines that makes her Native claim the most questionable. There’s a claim that in 1894, Warren’s great-great-great grandmother was described as being Cherokee, although that original documentation cannot be found. And beyond the biological, racial distance there’s nothing to indicate that Warren would currently meet the cultural requirements to be Native. What’s the purpose and intent of being a self-declared Native, when the social, cultural and economic hardships that Natives endure do not apply to you in any way?
A website called Cherokees Demand Truth From Elizabeth Warren states, "Elizabeth Warren has not just stolen an ethnic identity that does not belong to her, but she has also personally benefited from it and harmed the integrity of the American ethos of advancement based on quality of work, not color of skin."
However, when Warren spoke to the National Congress of American Indians she mentioned that her Cherokee background is part of her family lore, “It was part of what we talked about… it was part of who we were,” and a reaction to the death of the matriarchs in her family, alongside the feeling that family stories and history were becoming lost.
Perhaps Warren’s biggest failure up until now is failing to educate the general public about the importance of her ancestry and its role in her personal and professional life.
Should this entire name-calling and race debate even be part of headline news at all? We think that since Warren had stated her possible interest in the 2020 presidential election, dispelling the name-calling by Trump might be the first step in a larger overall strategy.